“Two pearls have been dissolved, 27 gold coins have been lost and of the silver and copper the total cannot be cast up”.
This was the rather cryptic message Nana Saheb Peshwa received after the shattering loss at Panipat. The two pearls were his son Vishwas Rao and cousin Sadashiv Rao Bhauwho led the campaign. The 27 gold coins were the Maratha sardars, and the rest the soldiers of the army, who were massacred en masse. It was one of the worst blows ever to the Maratha empire, the Peshwa, could not recover from the debacle and died broken hearted in the very city of Pune, that he so lovingly built. The Marathas lost the entire Northern territories of India from Delhi onwards, and the empire ran up into huge debts. And yet it was after this darkest hour, that the Maratha empire came back once again to it’s true glory, in what was called the Maratha Resurrection.
The Maratha Resurrection roughly corresponds to the period between January 14, 1761 when the Panipat tragedy occurred, to the capture of Najibabad in 1773. It was the period when Mahadji Scindia defeated the Jats of Mathura, Rajputs and Rohillas to once again re-establish the Maratha supremacy in the North. And the man who played a major role in this era, was none other than the young Madhav Rao, who became the Peshwa at one of the most critical junctures in Maratha history.
Madhav Rao, was born on February 14, 1745, the second son of Nanasaheb Peshwa at Savnur. The Maratha empire was at it’s peak then, while Pune had grown into a great city under the Peshwa. However the rout at Panipat, was a major blow to the empire, and his father died heart broken on June 23, 1761 at the Parvati temple in Pune. At the tender age of 16, Madhav Rao became the Peshwa, with his uncle Raghunath Rao as the regent.
It was not the best of times, they had lost Bhau and Vishwas Rao, some of their best Sardars. Their entire territory in the North was lost, and huge debts had been accumulated. The treasury was totally depleted, while the administration was in total chaos, with indiscipline rampant among the officials. On top of it, his uncle Raghoba had had his own ambitions to be the next Peshwa.
Madhav Rao, aided by the wise Nana Fadnavis, began on the work of getting the administration back to shape. He bought in a radical revolution in the governance of the Maratha Empire. Corrupt and lethargic officials were publicly flogged, putting a check to the rampant corruption and indiscipline that had crept in. Ram Shastri Prabhune, was given complete charge of the judicial system, which he managed excellently, and ensured justice would be delivered. Revenue usage was streamlined for citizen’s welfare, while artillery and weapons were constantly upgraded. He was a citizen’s king and ensured he was always there to listen to the grievances of his people.
In 1762, he set out to conquer Karnataka, one of his earliest wars against the Nizam , and that is where the differences cropped up between him and his uncle. While Raghoba, abandoned the campaign midway, Madhav Rao neverthless proceeded on, and later a treaty was signed with the Nizam. Basically he and his uncle were split into two groups, while he preferred Fadnavis, Gopalrao Patwardhan, Tryambakrao Mama Pethe and Ram Shastri, his uncle’s group was made up of Sakharambapu, Gulabrao and Gangoba Tatya.
The differences began to widen between the two, and in August, 1762, Raghoba fled to Vadgaon Maval, where he began to build his own army. His army became a menace to the villagers, looting them. Not wishing to engage with his own uncle in a battle, Madhav Rao called him over for talks and signed a treaty. However Raghoba went back on his promise, treacherously back stabbing him and attacking him when he was unaware. Madhav Rao surrendered to his uncle on November 12, 1762. Soon Raghoba began to take all the decisions with the help of Sakharam Bapu, and also befriended the Nizam. A disastrous decision, as the Nizam took advantage to infiltrate the Maratha Empire.
Madhav Rao once again took matters in his hand, and on March 7, 1763, routed the Nizam at the Battle of Rakshasbhuvan near Aurangabad. The Nizam was forced to sue for peace, with most of North Karnataka going to the Peshwa. The Peshwa once again decided to attack Hyder Ali in 1764 with a huge army that had Gopalrao Patwardhan, Murari Rao Ghorpade. Raghoba however declined to be part, and went on a pilgrimage to Nashik. It proved to be a long drawn campaign, with Hyder Ali putting up a stiff resistance. While the Peshwa requested Raghoba for help, he intentionally went ahead and signed a treaty. It was a deliberate move, as Raghoba was now concerned of Madhav Rao’s growing power. However Madhav Rao managed to inflict defeats on Hyder Ali in 1767 at Sira,Madgiri, and also released Rani Veerammaji, the last ruler of the Keladi Nayakas and her son from captivity.
While Holkar, Shinde expanded the territories in North, Madhav Rao signed a peace treaty with the Nizam, to put an end to the long hostilities between them. He turned down repeated requests from the British in 1767 to set up base in Vasai, and offer assistance against Hyder Ali, anticipating their intentions. In the meantime when Raghoba again tried to overthrow him in a palace coup, he got him captured on June 10, 1768 and put him under house arrest along with Sakharam Bapu.
Raghoba however did not give up, and planned an assasination attempt on Madhav Rao in September 7, 1769, while the latter was returning from the Parvati temple in Pune. One of his general Ramsingh, suddenly attacked him, however the Peshwa managed to dodge the blow just in time, and later placed Ramsingh under arrest.
However in 1770, tuberculousis struck Madhav Rao, when he set out on a campaign against Hyder Ali. As the disease slowly spread over, he decided to spend his last days at the Ganesh Chintamani Temple in Theur near Pune. Madhav Rao passed away on November 18, 1772 in the temple premises, at a rather young age of 27. Citizens of Pune turned out in large numbers to pay their respects to the Peshwa.
Madhavrao’s contribution to the Maratha Resurrection will forever be remembered. Taking over it at a critical juncture, he managed to bring the finances on track, reformed administration, and militarily too bought the pride back. His impact was best summed up by James Grant Duff.
And the plains of Panipat were not more fatal to the Maratha Empire than the early end of this excellent prince…